Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Krugman and Asimov

The New Yorker has an article lauding Paul Krugman. What is most interesting amongst all the praise if the brief description of his addressing a Science Fiction convention and what motivated him to do so.

The article states:

Krugman explained that he’d become an economist because of science fiction. When he was a boy, he’d read Isaac Asimov’s “Foundation” trilogy and become obsessed with the central character, Hari Seldon. Seldon was a “psychohistorian”—a scientist with such a precise understanding of the mechanics of society that he could predict the course of events thousands of years into the future and save mankind from centuries of barbarism. He couldn’t predict individual behavior—that was too hard—but it didn’t matter, because history was determined not by individuals but by laws and hidden forces. “If you read other genres of fiction, you can learn about the way people are and the way society is,” Krugman said to the audience, “but you don’t get very much thinking about why are things the way they are, or what might make them different. What would happen if ?”

With Hari Seldon in mind, Krugman went to Yale, in 1970, intending to study history, but he felt that history was too much about what and not enough about why, so he ended up in economics. Economics, he found, examined the same infinitely complicated social reality that history did but, instead of elucidating its complexity, looked for patterns and rules that made the complexity seem simple. Why did some societies have serfs or slaves and others not? You could talk about culture and national character and climate and changing mores and heroes and revolts and the history of agriculture and the Romans and the Christians and the Middle Ages and all the rest of it; or, like Krugman’s economics teacher Evsey Domar, you could argue that if peasants are barely surviving there’s no point in enslaving them, because they have nothing to give you, but if good new land becomes available it makes sense to enslave them, because you can skim off the difference between their output and what it takes to keep them alive. Suddenly, a simple story made sense of a huge and baffling swath of reality, and Krugman found that enormously satisfying.

The world of Asimov is in many ways the world of techno-socialists, and Asimov creates and expands on this world and its implications. He has totally destroyed the world as we know it, capitalism and democracy. It is a world controlled by scientists who all work for the greater good whatever that may be.

Asimov is an intriguing figure. His novels are simplistic, fail to develop characters, yet are crisp and to the point. He is in many ways the last of the early socialists yet he prospered in a highly capitalist society, yet never went far from his nest.

Hari Seldon is the quintessential role model for the self important macro-economists, one who uses the Government and one who has not the single most doubt about their own certitude, and the complete failings of the rest of humanity. Hari Seldon is in many ways why got us all in this mess!

Remember that China is run by engineers and not economists!